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County board votes to end local state of emergency

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to end the local declaration of a state of emergency in the county that has been in place since March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

County Administrator Tom Jensen said the declaration helped allow the county more easily purchase emergency supplies, including hand sanitizer, face shields and face masks, and waived the bid and quoting process for emergency items. 

Jensen said the county no longer needs that latitude in its operations. Emergency Management Director Rich Hall is maintaining all supplies and is procuring more under his oversight. 

Board Chairman Chris Shoff asked whether ending the emergency declaration would harm the county in terms of future grants available through the state or federal government. 

Jensen said he did not think it would harm the county. 

The board also voted unanimously to approve a limited reopening of county buildings. 

Jensen said screenings will continue at the entrance of the Law Enforcement Center, and all people will still be encouraged to set up appointments and utilize online and drop box options. 

The number of customers in each office will be limited to allow social distancing, and masking will be required. 

First District Commissioner Brad Edwin said he thought the issue needed to be visited regularly, either monthly at a meeting or workshop, or at each board meeting, so that the commissioners would know what has opened, what staff are being brought back to work in-person and how the county is accommodating the public. 

He said he is supportive of working to get the courthouse fully open again. 

While the courthouse will limited reopening, commissioners did not vote on resuming in-person board meetings. 

Shoff said he, personally, still felt it was a little premature to do so and cited a reference from Mayo Clinic that listed the county still as a hot spot. 

Jensen said they would still be able to do hybrid meetings — where some commissioners meet in-person while others talk through virtual options — though that can sometimes hinder discussion. 

In the last few weeks, three of the board members have met in-person with some staff, while the other two board members have been a part of the meetings and workshops virtually. 

Fifth District Commissioner Ted Herman said while he thinks it is important to  have in-person meetings, he supported having the virtual option available for those who did not feel comfortable coming in yet. 

The issue will be on the agenda for the board’s workshop in April to discuss again.